How We Can Make The World Better For Having Been In It


How We Can Make The World Better For Having Been In It

After reading an insightful post from the NVR Guys about volunteerism and giving back, I was so moved by it that I decided to expand on my response to it which was:

“I’ve always liked the old Shirley Chisholm quote: “Service is the rent that we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” To that end, you guys are operating at a surplus. I think one of the best things that you can do for yourself is to give back…it’s actually, a selfish endeavor really, because you get back much more than you give. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you’ve made the difference in someone’s life. It really is a beautiful thing.

Even if you think you have nothing to offer, there is always someone who is sick, infirmed or elderly and would love the company of even strangers because so many of their own families have abandoned them. Giving companionship doesn’t require any special talent, only a willing heart”.

One look at the news on any given day and we can be overwhelmed by the massive needs in our own country and abroad.  Suddenly, it makes us question our ability to exact real change when such seemingly insurmountable problems exist.  We realize our own frailty and relative insignificance in the scheme of things and convince ourselves that the problem is too big to tackle.

Love cannot remain by itself — it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service. – Mother Teresa

This gives us a momentary reprieve when we feel justified to do nothing.  We wait for others to pick up the slack to do the things that we’ve assured ourselves that is much bigger than ourselves.  We see issues like teen pregnancy and wring our hands and pontificate about how difficult it will be for the young parent and her child.  Yet, we won’t muster up the energy to call a teen pregnancy prevention center and become a mentor who could possibly help to prevent another pregnancy.

We forget that one community’s cold can become the larger society’s flu epidemic.  To ignore societal issues today could result in more problems tomorrow.  We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be spectators anymore because the need is too great.  There’s a great saying “Think Globally, Act Locally”.  I think we can all lend a hand in our own communities.  Whether that’s volunteering at the local food shelter, homeless shelter, teen outreach center….there is always a place for each of us to add our special talents and gifts toward the betterment of mankind.   Most importantly, the main cost will be your time.  Every one of us has 24 hours a day to fill, what do you plan to do with yours?  One person can make a difference, and then solutions can become cumulative because every little bit helps.

Be the change that you want to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi

There is also a psychological payoff to volunteering.  The satisfaction that you will get from reaching out and making a difference in this world is beyond amazing.  Leaving the world better than you found it is what we all should strive for.  Every good deed brings about a positive change in someone’s life.  Sure, we could all be selfish and only concern ourselves with our own families, our own problems….then you will have to ask yourself whether you are a part of the problem or the solution.

I used to attend a church where the rallying cry was to not concern yourself with the troubles of the world.  That could be interpreted in one way, but their version was to separate yourself completely from those who did not follow the faith.   They wanted to create an insular community where only people who believed what they believed mattered.  I thought it was the antithesis of what being a Christian truly was.  I always think back to a refrain in Stevie Wonder’s song, “As”: “so make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it.  You’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell.”  It’s one thing to do nothing because you feel the problem is too great, it’s another to ignore the world’s ills with malice and forethought.  One need not share the same ideology, faith, belief or politics to help someone else, just a willingness to look beyond the surface to see something much deeper.  Love.

Sometimes, extending your hand doesn’t require anything more than a random act of kindness.  Pay for the driver behind you in the drive-through or offer to pick up an elderly neighbor’s groceries.  Visit an assisted living community and share your talents (whether that is singing, reading, listening, etc.).  You will be amazed at how much they will appreciate your company because many have either no family or a family who no longer cares.  So, whenever you find yourself asking the question, “What can I do?”  The answer is ‘make a difference’.

In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it. – Marianne Williamson

Are you ready to jump in with both feet? Here’s a short list of places that are always looking for volunteers. I would love to hear about the organizations that you support and believe in.



Renee King
  • The NVR Guys
    Posted at 19:12h, 08 May Reply

    What a thoughtful and well written post. Of course, we appreciate the shout-out, but we appreciate more that you have used your voice to inspire others to make a difference.

    I love that you said, “To ignore societal issues today could result in more problems tomorrow.” This is so true and serves as the basis for the advocacy work we do. This truth is especially interesting when juxtaposed with something else you wrote, “They wanted to create an insular community where only people who believed what they believed mattered.” I think there are many people who, to some degree, fall into this camp. It may not be religious dogma that is driving it, but it is the same premise none-the-less. Heartlessness aside, I am amazed by the ignorance of this stance. This belief that “I take care of mine and you take care of yours” denies a fundamental truth, which is we are all connected. If one is going to be selfish, then start volunteering and working to make the world a better place – it is all coming right back your way after all.

    Thanks again!

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:42h, 09 May Reply

      I hear you! I think some people proudly rail against the ‘it takes a village’ mantra. I do believe that certain segments have not only become more selfish, but are so arrogant, they boast about it. But I believe everything happens for a reason. Whenever I hear that type of person, I wonder what has transpired in their life that makes them so cold and unfeeling? Unfortunately, their disregard is bolstered by media (radio, mostly) talking heads who validate such ignorance and promotes more of the same. For those who do not feel that connectedness, it’s probably because they think themselves as being on a higher plane looking down at the unwashed masses.

  • inka
    Posted at 01:40h, 09 May Reply

    Very well written and thought through Renee. It’s good that you have pointed out that volunteering doesn’t mean rushing off to some remote place in the jungle chopping wood and teaching kids. That’s only one part, volunteering starts – as you rightly say – on your own door step. Whilst I was living in London, a few friends and I rented a mini van once every week, then collected elderly patients from a hospital we were in touch with and took them to concerts, the theatre or the opera, things they enjoyed tremendously but would not have been able to do or afford on their own. Their joy was our joy and their smiles were the greatest reward.

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:04h, 09 May Reply

      Thanks, Inka. While I do believe it’s noble and I promote volunteerism, I think sometimes we forget what’s sometimes in our faces everyday. There are some who question whether or not their donations go where they are supposed to. Being hands on alleviates that concern. I think that was a very generous thing for you and friends to do for the elderly…I know that you will receive many blessings in return.

  • Jeremy B
    Posted at 11:33h, 09 May Reply

    Great post Renee! We are on the same page with this! It’s this kind of volunteer attitude which is why I have a section on my blog called “Travel Gives Back dedicated to using the opportunities we have been given to help others. A couple of weekends ago, I did the March for Babies to help raise money for premature babies. I’ve done other volunteer opportunities and always give away my money each month to help others. I know there are a lot of travelers, like the NVR guys, that are dedicated to making this a huge part of their lives. Sometimes it isn’t easy or comfortable but it really does feel good to give to others.

    As for that church you went to, it’s completely wrong to isolate yourselves from the world. Faith should always cause people to reach and help others. Always.

  • Laurel
    Posted at 13:57h, 09 May Reply

    Yeah 3 cheers for volunteering! I agree that there is something for everyone regardless of their skills and time. I’m hoping to start volunteering at the Human Society walking dogs which only takes an hour a week.

  • Lorna - the roamantics
    Posted at 15:41h, 09 May Reply

    i LOVE this post renee!!! you always write so eloquently and in such a non-judgmental yet gentle nudging way that really inspires me. i love this line, “We forget that one community’s cold can become the larger society’s flu epidemic.” and i was actually the recipient of a random act of kindness last week that i’ll be writing about this week. sometimes it just takes a few seconds to make the world a better place, but for those of us with more time…even better! 🙂

  • Caz Makepeace
    Posted at 17:29h, 09 May Reply

    Great post Renee and beautifully written. I think so many people get overwhelmed with the thought of volunteering or making a difference in the world. They feel they are too busy just trying to get by with their own lives. And while here in the Western world our problems are so minute compared to others, and our lifestyle so luxurious, when you are involved in your own problems it is hard to see past that into the world of others.
    If only people realized that they don’t have to do major things to help make the world a better place. It starts with very small and simple things. A smile, a kind or encouraging word, the use of simple manners. Small gestures that can brighten someone else’s day which means they are then more likely to pay it forward.
    As the great Ghandi says “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There is not much else more powerful than that!

  • Leigh
    Posted at 18:19h, 09 May Reply

    I joined the board of the KiBO Foundation this year & ended up spending 3 1/2 weeks in Uganda & Kenya in the fall (on my own nickel I might add)to see first hand what was happening. Our agenda is to educate youth (18-30 years old) in communication and IT skills so that they can get jobs. Our success rate so far is roughly 90% – and that’s in a country where 80% of youth are unemployed. The other cornerstone to our program is that the youth have to give back to their community – and we’re talking here about the poor giving back to the poor. And it has to continue even after they graduate. One of our students was a Rwandan genocide survivor – who has lived as a refugee in many countries – but who still has hope and is very proud of giving to those that are even less well off than he is.In fact one of the classes raised $US300 through car washes and such and bought the orphans living in the Luwero district some land so that they can grow crops and be self sufficient. This is a story that’s mostly about Africans helping Africans.

    Volunteering is great. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel worthy. But unfortunately it’s not always the answer. I have seen enough fancy cars driving in Africa, owned by NGO’s, to know that so much money given to charities, gets poorly used. Sometimes more harm than good occurs. Locals learn to rely on handouts. But it’s not all bad. I think you have to choose who you work with very carefully and their values have to be inline with yours. In Uganda alone there are over 50,000 charities – a ridiculous number – and how many are effective is a very good question to ask.

    And I’m all in favour of random acts of kindness. It feels just as good or better to dole it out as it does to receive it.
    Now that’s a long winded comment.

    • Renee
      Posted at 19:03h, 09 May Reply

      I love the fact that you not only give, but teach the receiver how to give back too….I definitely believe in paying it forward. I agree that good works can become co-opted by those with evil intent..which is why sometimes it’s best to go directly to where the need resides if you do not rust the organizations. Leigh….I pray the day never comes when you cease to be “long winded”! ;-D

  • Grace
    Posted at 21:00h, 09 May Reply

    This is something that I have not done enough but I am starting to explore how to incorporate volunteering not just at home but when I travel. I feel really inspired that more people are talking about volunteering and taking action. Thanks for sharing this Renee!

  • Liz
    Posted at 15:54h, 10 May Reply

    Great post, Renee! I have often thought about doing this very thing, but sometimes feel overwhelmed with all the choices and finding reputable places to work with. Your list has inspired me to get planning again! I think its always great to both travel and give back, but I am a huge believer that just doing little things can add up to make a big difference. And what better way than to shed a positive outlook on your own country than by helping others!

    • Renee
      Posted at 13:32h, 13 May Reply

      Liz, I like the way that you think….exactly…..we’re all very busy these days, so it’s important to narrow our focus sometimes.

  • Jacinda Green
    Posted at 21:19h, 10 May Reply

    I really loved this post. I agree with you on nearly all of this time. I have always been big on volunteering but recently have found myself using the excuse that “I’m too busy”. You are right that the little things can make and difference. Also, volunteering helps you feel good about yourself and makes you realize that most of your problems are not even that serious compared to others. Again, great post!

    • Renee
      Posted at 08:07h, 13 May Reply

      Ah, thanks Jacinda….I’m glad to hear from you…..I was worried after the storms. So true….looking at other people’s situations make you think about how things really aren’t that bad after all.

  • Christy
    Posted at 21:41h, 10 May Reply

    Beautiful beautiful post! Volunteering, speaking up, being an advocate for disadvantaged groups, loving others, donating money, listening to what a community needs and doing your best to support them in those efforts….. if we all did our best on even a few of these, change can happen!! 🙂

    • Renee
      Posted at 08:05h, 13 May Reply

      Thanks, Christy……cooperation is the key….imagine what we could do if we all put our heads together!

  • Gray
    Posted at 12:37h, 11 May Reply

    Great post, Renee (and beautifully written). I feel a bit guilty that I’ve let my volunteerism slack since I started blogging due to not enough time. I do miss the feeling of giving back, though. Even if you can’t make a difference in the world, you can make a difference in one person’s life. And that feels pretty good, too. As I try to come up with a workable plan to take a career break (emphasis on “try”), I’m starting to think about what kind of volunteer work I could do during that time. So thanks for the links!

    • Renee
      Posted at 08:05h, 13 May Reply

      Great point, Gray. I think everyone knows someone who may be down on their luck….I say make that person your project… to speak. Lend a helping hand….doesn’t have to be financial….but in ways that you think may be beneficial.

  • Ajen
    Posted at 02:21h, 16 May Reply

    Hi Renee- I am so glad to have visited your site. I love your writing and like you , I love to travel- even though most of our recent travels have been within a 3-hr driving distance. Because my husband and I believe in volunteerism and are volunteer members as well as board members for a few local organizations, we have been talking about volunteer-tourism. Why not? We want to visit a few communities in various countries; and rather than being a spectator or a consumer of services, we want to offer our time in exchange of residing there for a short while. I think my husband and I have had unique experiences where we see that we would stand to learn more about ourselves as well as new perspectives about community economic development as we engage various cultures. …and perhaps I can actually become proficient in one of the languages that I had studied -way back when- in college.

    • Renee
      Posted at 10:29h, 16 May Reply

      Thanks, Ajen! I’m glad to know that you enjoy traveling too. I am a big advocate of voluntourism….I hope that you read my article about that as well. It is so important to give back to others and we do get back so much more.

  • Nancie
    Posted at 01:07h, 18 May Reply

    Great post Renee. I think we can all give back, and how we do it is up to us. Believe it or not, as a foreign resident in Korea, up until about 2 years ago it was illegal for me to physically volunteer. The laws have now changed, but should immigration come knocking, I must be able to prove that I am not receiving any compensation.

    I support Kiva micro loans. This organization provides small business loans in developing countries. I have helped entrepreneurs in Cambodia, Peru, and Columbia. I also support Passports with Purpose, and almost give through the Red Cross when a disaster occurs anywhere in the world.

    Sometimes when I’m traveling I’ll volunteer a day or two teaching English.

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:55h, 21 May Reply

      That’s something that it would have been illegal to volunteer….wow! You’re amazing, Nancie….I think what you are contributing to the world is great. I’m a great Kiva and Heifer International fan….both great organizations!

  • jade
    Posted at 19:55h, 22 May Reply

    This is something that we really want to do- hopefully soon. We usually volunteer in Los Angeles at the dog shelter but would love to combine travel and volunteering. Great piece and hopefully it will inspire others to take a closer look at what they can do, too.

    • Renee
      Posted at 20:23h, 23 May Reply

      Way to go…..every contribution helps….no matter what form….it matters!

  • Abi
    Posted at 11:34h, 04 June Reply

    A thoughtful post – on a complex issue. I have quite strong feelings about many aspects of voluntary work and voluntourism which I won’t get deep into here… Lovely, inspiring post

    • Renee
      Posted at 11:52h, 13 June Reply

      Thanks, Abi….I appreciate your warm words.

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